Midhurst is predominantly a Tudor town. Both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I came here and much of what they saw then is visible today.
At first glance some of the houses in North Street appear to date from the 18th or 19th centuries, but their fronts are merely facades. Behind are the timber beams of an earlier age. For example, the estate agents next to the Angel Hotel. Its side wall shows the old studding and bricks which were concealed by a fashion-conscious Georgian owner. However, it is in the Old Town, reached via the quaintly-named Knockhundred Row (whose houses deserve careful study) that the Tudor legacy can be fully admired. (Left: The Angel Hotel)
The Market Square
Midhurst developed around its mediaeval market. Many of the buildings were shops facing this central area. Because space was limited, the houses had narrow frontages (usually only a perch, say 16½ft or 5m, wide), but with long gardens opening onto a back lane.The principal trades involved turning wool into cloth and hides into leather goods. Country people brought produce to sell at the weekly market and had stalls in the open air.The little town was busy, noisy and, above all, smelly with animal and human ordure.
One Tudor house that can be visited is now the Library. This was the home of the Marner family who were the only silk weavers in Midhurst and were therefore very prosperous. Various of them lived in the five cottages that made up the building and shared the back yard with the "house by office" (outside privy) and their well. All the internal walls have now been removed and the beautiful roof structure can be admired. (click the image to the right for an enlargement of the roof timbers; and 'Library' above for an outside view of the building.)
Further down Church Hill, on the left hand side, and in Sheep Lane behind, are what seem to be small Georgian terraces. However, a peep at the side of the lowest house reveals that these also are Tudor in origin, refronted as 18th century modernisation. (Right: The Library).
On the opposite side of the road is another row of ancient properties and the careful observer can distinguish about 15 of them. Here, as elsewhere, many of what were then single plots have become double. Their origins can be seen from the roof lines and from the perch-wide frontages, each of which once had a door and a window. The lower shops have the remains of the projecting jetties where the first floor beams overhung the ground level room. During the night a wooden vertical shutter would have covered the lower window; by day, let down on hinges, it provided a counter for the sale of goods. Modern customers will discover the impressive beams of the bookshop. (Click Spread Eagle link below to get enlargement)
Opposite it are the timber fames, external and internal, of what is now an off licence. Similar woodwork underlies the plaster of the pub next door, waiting to be uncovered. These two are all that remains of "The Middle Row" that in Elizabethan times stretched up the hill. Victorian and later town planners destroyed it. (Left: the Spread Eagle, The Swan Inn and row of shops in the distance)
Each house was constructed as a rigid box-like timber frame to which non-load-bearing walls were attached. These buildings are very different from those put together by piling bricks or stones one on top of another. A timber-framed property is held together by mortice and tenon joints and by wooden pegs. It is a complete entity which a giant could pick up and move all in one piece to another location.
The foundation is a wooden frame, the sill beams, that lies flat on the ground. Uprights from each corner, known as the principal posts, are connected at their tops, transversally by the beams and laterally by wall plates. The roof, in various forms, is jointed onto this framing.The space between one pair of principal posts and the next is called a bay. It is the building block of these Tudor houses and the basis of a flexible system which can be extended, either end-on or sideways, depending on the land available and the owner's wealth. (Right; Spread Eagle annexe doorway).
Walls are formed by horizontal rails and by vertical studs. The traditional filling between them was wattle and daub – hazel twigs plastered with mud and straw. By Tudor times bricks were being used, as replacement or substitution, and arranged in decorative patterns.
More Tudor Buildings
The construction details can be seen on the timber and red brick annex to the Spread Eagle Hotel. Every piece of wood was cut to exact size in the carpenter's yard and marked to ensure that it would be correctly positioned on site. This marking took the form of the Roman numerals which are still there today. Some but not all of the original small Tudor bricks remain and at the rear are the roughly adzed tree trunks that were cut down at least half a millennium ago. (Left: The Spread Eagle - Foyle's War Filming).
There are other ancient timber-framed properties in the Old Town . Earlier houses doubtless stood here, but these were insubstantial and were deliberately replaced by their Tudor owners to demonstrate their wealth and the success of their businesses. A date plaque of 1660 in West Street marks a shop that may have been updated in that year for the third time.
Tudor Castle of Cowdray
The event that had the greatest effect on the town was the rebuilding of the old manor house of Coudreye, half a mile away on the river bank. With the injection of vast sums of money by noblemen from the Courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII, this property became the mansion of Cowdray or Cowdray Castle. Completed in about 1542, it transformed the local economy. Enormous amounts of food were required to feed the 200-odd servants, to say nothing of the lord, his family and guests.(Left: Cowdray Castle a Ghost Castle).
READ ABOUT THE GHOST HUNTS AT THE CASTLE.
Catering was now on a scale previously unimagined,
with about 30 different dishes being served at the main meal.
Richard Vobes Audio on Cowdray - important. Please listen!
Architecturally also Cowdray was very different from the timber-framed houses of Midhurst. Grandly built in brick and stone, it was the work of sophisticated craftsmen skilled in the Renaissance splendours of France and Italy .
Midhurst Treasure Hunt
Edition 2 now available for download free including map.No historical knowledge required, just good observational skills and detective work. You start at the Spread Eagle Hotel (AD 1430) and then walk to South Pond and then round the 'old town'. The route takes you down North St, The Castle Caueway, to Cowdray Castle, the River Rother and by a circular path to the Castle of the Bohuns and the 'old town' again
"TUDOR COWDRAY .... in Midhurst, Sussex, has been crowned overall winner of the RICS South East Awards 2008, as well as winner of the region's Building Conservation category. The project was in competition with 17 other shortlisted projects from across the South East and was announced the winner at a ceremony held at Oxford Castle, which was last year's overall winner"......more
Repairing Tudor Cowdray - The Times
Other effects were felt. The neighbourhood labour market suffered from the diversion of workers both as house attendants and as building or maintenance men. Furthermore, the merchants who had lived happily in the Old Town were now drawn by the magnet of Cowdray. The previous country lane to Easebourne became the North Street of a new suburb. This is why all the Tudor properties were built there.(A Tudor Art Competition held by Conifers School was displayed in Comestibles Community Café and Deli in Midhurst - see above picture).
The Market House
The pull towards Cowdray created a problem. Was the town to be re-sited or would its focus remain around the market? In an attempt to prevent it moving, a group of senior officials petitioned the lord of the manor to give them a plot of land on which to have a market house, near the church. This was built in 1551 and still remains in the centre of the Old Town. It is now unrecognisable as being Tudor because its open aisles were closed in when the building became the Town Hall in 1760. (Right: The Old Town Hall).
Midhurst has several examples of Tudor Wall Paintings, mostly in private houses.The most elaborate, however, can be seen in Ye Olde Tea Shoppe in North Street (picture below).This tells the Old Testament story of King Ahab robbing Nathan of his family's vineyard. Dating from the religious persecutions of Queen Elizabeth I's reign (1533-1603), it reflects the despair of the mostly Catholic population of the town in being deprived of the heritage of their faith. Knowing the history helps us to understand the architecture. Click image for an enlargement.
More about Cowdray Castle click here.
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